Umberto Boccioni, Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (1913)
February 14, 2020

Future

Cold today, the kind of cold that has people cursing in the streets. It’s the first day in weeks that’s felt like winter. Ducked into the Metropolitan Museum of Art to visit one of my favorite sculptures on Valentine’s Day. A vaguely human-shaped slab of bronze staggers into a ferocious wind, its body on fire, determined to walk. Thigh stretched, calf flexed as it lunges into the future, sheared and massive. This is Umberto Boccioni’s Unique Forms of Continuity in Space from 1913.

In 1909 a manifesto appeared in the pages of a French newspaper like a flamethrower ready to reduce history to ashes:

We will sing of great crowds excited by work, by pleasure, and by riot; we will sing of the multicolored, polyphonic tides of revolution in the modern capitals; we will sing of the vibrant nightly fervor of arsenals and shipyards blazing with violent electric moons; greedy railway stations that devour smoke-plumed serpents—

Such overheated language, the cadence of a fist punching through the sky. The Futurist manifesto crackles with juvenile ego and spite, naively celebrating destruction and dogma five years before the world’s first mechanized war made these things a reality.

—factories hung on clouds by the crooked lines of their smoke; bridges that stride the rivers like giant gymnasts, flashing in the sun with a glitter of knives; deep-chested locomotives whose wheels paw the tracks like the hooves of enormous steel horses; and the sleek flight of planes whose propellers chatter in the wind like banners and cheer like an enthusiastic crowd.

There’s something infectious about this purple writing, and it tints my thoughts as I circle Boccioni’s bronze figure. A body warped and wefted like a terrible dream dredged from the sea. Its face is an anvil, maybe a crucifix. The end of religion. A new faith in the electric storms of the modern world. The Futurists believed museums were cemeteries yet here’s this statue a century later, captured and displayed beneath the timid gallery spotlights. Sheared planes and a knight’s helmet, venturing into a final crusade. A portrait of humanity marching into the heat of tomorrow.


Kraftwerk – Heavy Metal Kids

K4 Bremen Radio, 1971

Fifty years ago, Kraftwerk more or less invented heavy metal during a live performance on a radio station. Further reading: the Futurist manifesto; Unique Forms of Continuity in Space. See also: Futurism and Italian Fascism and When Futurism Let to Fascism—and Why It Could Happen Again.

Each night in 2020 I'm writing a short post for a series called Notes From the End of a World because I want to etch these days into my memory before I forget them. Before the world changes completely.
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